Research & Development


Dr William Skirving - ReefSense Director and Lead Scientist

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Dr Skirving has a BSc majoring in Geography and Mathematics, a BSc (Hons) in Climatology and Remote Sensing, an MSc in Hydrology and a PhD in Physics specializing in Environmental Remote Sensing. He spent 3 years teaching geography at James Cook University before moving to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), where he was the head of Remote Sensing for 15 years. Towards the end of his time at AIMS, Dr Skirving was seconded to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington DC, where he worked for 3 years. Upon returning to Australia, Dr Skirving resigned from AIMS and set up ReefSense Pty Ltd. As well as being the director of ReefSense, Dr Skirving is an adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Queensland Global Change Institute, is a Senior Scientist within the NOAA Coral Reef Watch program, and is a visiting professor of the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines.

Dr Skirving has published over 150 peer reviewed articles in journals that include Nature, Nature Climate Change, Nature Ecology and Evolution, Global Change Biology, Coral Reefs, PloS One, Remote Sensing, Remote Sensing of Environment, Geophysical Research Letters, Limnology and Oceanography and others. His publications have totaled more than 10,000 citations.

Best described as a satellite oceanographer, Dr Skirving specialises in monitoring the effects of climate change on corals using environmental parameters derived from satellite data.  While at AIMS, he gained extensive experience in the use of many remote sensing instruments including visible and thermal infrared sensors, scatterometers and altimeters as well as the deployment and use of relevant in situ instruments (e.g. wave staffs, wave-capable Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers, tide gauges, temperature and salinity sensors, etc).  Dr Skirving was also a major contributor to Chapter 30 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment.

Dr Skirving has served on more than a dozen International and National expert committees including the GMS Pathfinder Working Group (Co-led by NASA and the Australian BoM), a sub-group (mini SAG) of the ESA Science Advisory Group to the ATSR-2 and AATSR missions, the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) Coral Sub-theme, the Environment Facility’s (GEF) international Targeted Research Project on Coral Reefs and Climate Change Remote Sensing working group, and is currently the lead to the international Group on High Resolution Sea Surface Temperature (GHRSST) Coral Heat Stress Task Team.

Dr Skirving has extensive experience in organising, running and participating in scientific and user outreach workshops for the various projects he has worked on. These workshops have been conducted all over the world, but mostly within the Pacific, Caribbean islands and around Australia.

Dr Blake Spady - Research Scientist

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Dr Blake Spady acquired his BSc in Biology from George Mason University (GMU), Virginia, USA. During his studies at GMU, he worked for three years in the Freshwater Ecology Lab under Prof Christian Jones, which primarily involved field sampling, data compilation, and the identification/sorting of benthic microorganisms and macroorganisms. While attending university, Dr Spady also worked as a marine test-driver for Volvo-Penta, running endurance tests on IO engines and clocking well over 10,000 documented hours in the handling of various marine craft as well as developing skills in marine engine maintenance and repair.

In 2012, Dr Spady moved to Townsville, QLD, Australia to study Marine Biology and Ecology at James Cook University (JCU). Both his MSc and PhD research were supervised by Prof Philip Munday and Dr Sue-Ann Watson. Here, he focused on species-specific effects of climate change, with an emphasis on ocean acidification, on the physiology and behaviour of marine organisms. This work has led to an expertise in experimental biology, carbonate chemistry analyses, statistical analyses, respirometry, marine animal husbandry, aquaculture system design and maintenance, an abundance of field skills, and much more. During his studies and since his graduation, Dr Spady has been a returning guest lecturer for several postgraduate-level courses, and was a tutor for entry level science courses and practicals for over five years.

Dr Spady has published his work in numerous high impact journals, including Global Change Biology, and has presented his research at several international scientific meetings. He helped to organised and run a genetic tools workshop at the Cephalopod International Advisory Council meeting in Tampa, Florida. He also enjoys an ongoing role on the Range Extension Database and Mapping Project (REDMAP). REDMAP is a citizen science initiative aimed at tracking the range shifts of marine organisms within Australian waters. Dr Spady’s role in REDMAP involves data compilation and analysis, outreach and communication with stakeholders, and administrative duties as the regional coordinator for Queensland. He also helped to secure a $30,000 AUD grant for REDMAP through the Queensland Citizen Science Grant. Dr Spady has also been the advisor for multiple MSc and Honours research projects, a role that has been one of his most rewarding experiences in science thus far.

Dr Spady currently works as a researcher and product developer for ReefSense Pty Ltd, and as part of that role, he is a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch program.

Benjamin Marsh - IT Specialist and Software Engineer

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Benjamin Marsh is an exceptional software engineer with a wide range of experience in the use of environmental satellite data. He has written software to analyze many satellite products, covering environmental variables such as sea surface temperature (SST), surface solar irradiance, various wave statistics, sea surface height and wind. Mr. Marsh has also developed software to analyse data derived from various physical models such as sea surface height from the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM), various wave statistics from NOAA’s Wave Watch 3, surface solar irradiance from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Re-Analysis (ERA5), and SSTs from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP).

Over recent years, Mr. Marsh has developed all of the software that underpins the Coral Reef Light Stress Damage Product. More recently, he has been one of the main contributors to the development of demonstrations of the Wave-driven Flood forecasting on Reef-lined Coasts Early warning system (WaveFoRCE) project, a ReefSense, Deltares, NOAA and USGS joint project.

Mr Marsh’s reputation as an excellent software developer, capable of handling very large datasets, is steadily growing among collaborators, including within NOAA NESDIS, Deltares, USGS, University of Reading, University of Exeter, University of Queensland, James Cook University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and Penn State University. This experience places him in a unique position to be able to assist with the development of various in situ, satellite and model-based products being developed by ReefSense scientists.

Cathy McDonald - Intern

Cathy McDonald is currently a year 11 student at The Cathedral School of St Anne & St James, Townsville. Her interests lie mainly in STEM subjects including Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. She is an active member of the school's TOASTMASTERS Gavel Club, and is a regular attendee of the Acadamy of Choi Kwang Do. She plans to attend university where she intends to study a bachelor of science.

Currently, Cathy spends 3 days per week at ReefSense during her school holidays. She has quickly mastered GIS and the Origin plotting package and is now using her skills to produce a number of diagrams that will be used in a paper about historical and future heat stress on the Great Barrier Reef.